Leaked Mark Zuckerberg Email Reveals His Thoughts on How Facebook Could Dominate Virtual Reality

There’s an extremely interesting article on the Road to VR website, that’s worth a read. Apparently, an author writing a book about the history of VR has obtained a copy of a lengthy 2015 email that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook sent to his senior executives. (The email has been confirmed by Road to VR, a major news reporting website on VR, as authentic.)

Titled Leaked Zuckerberg Email Reveals Facebook’s XR Strategy, ‘Our goal is not only to win, but to accelerate its arrival’, the article quotes Mark at length about the strategy behind Facebook buying Oculus for 2 billion dollars in 2014, and what he feels Facebook needs to do to dominate in virtual reality.

Remember this prediction I made last April?

What I predict will happen, over the next two years, is that one of the Big Five computer companies:
– Alphabet/Google
– Amazon
– Apple
– Facebook/Oculus
– Microsoft

Is either going to launch their own social VR/virtual world/metaverse product, OR is going to buy one of the Big Four metaverse-building companies:
– High Fidelity
– Linden Lab (Second Life and Sansar)
– Sine Wave Entertainment (Sinespace)
– VRChat

Well, keep that in mind, and read this direct quote from Mark’s email:

The key [VR] apps are what you’d expect: social communication and media consumption, especially immersive video. Gaming is critical but is more hits-driven and ephemeral, so owning the key games seems less important than simply making sure they exist on our platform. I expect everyone will use social communication and media consumption tools, and that we’ll build a large business if we are successful in these spaces. We will need a large investment and dedicated strategy to build the best services in these spaces. For now, though, I’ll just assert that building social services is our core competence, so I’ll save elaborating further on that for another day.

The platform vision is around key services that many apps use: identity, content and avatar makerplace, app distribution store, ads, payments and other social functionality. These services share the common properties of network effects, scarcity and therefore monetization potential. The more developers who use our content marketplace or app store or payments system, the better they become and the more effectively we can make money.

It seems pretty clear to me, from this email, that Facebook is planning to step into social VR in a major way. Mark sees “social communication and media consumption” as the killer app for VR, and they want to be a part of it. Facebook, for better or for worse, wants to dominate social virtual reality the way they already dominate social media.

I expect that we will all begin to get some idea of what Facebook has planned with the launch of the standalone Oculus Quest VR headset later this year. Watch carefully for any parallel announcement regarding the next-generation Oculus Home, Oculus Rooms, Facebook Spaces, or a completely rebranded platform where Oculus Go, Quest, and Rift users can meet up with each other. I’m convinced, now more than ever, that it’s going to happen.

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UPDATED! Editorial: Which Social VR Platform Will Be the First to Allow Adult Content?

The Escort Oasis in Second Life

I’ve been doing some thinking lately. Now hear me out on this.

Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Linden Lab, has gone on record that there will never be adult content in Sansar. Not because he’s opposed to it (after all, Second Life makes a not insignificant portion of its profit from the dozens of adult-rated sims on the grid, catering to just about every sexual kink imaginable). In fact, Second Life is so successful at this aspect of the business that it makes it almost impossible for any other adult virtual world to get a financial foothold (link is safe for work).

Ebbe is opposed to adult content from the point of view that he wants Sansar to be a success, a roaring success like Second Life was in its time, and that often means partnerships with other companies. Companies who are understandably very squeamish about associating their brand names with sex and adult content. The United States of America, for all the glorification of violence portrayed in its cultural exports like videogames and movies, is still remarkably puritanical (and frankly, somewhat hypocritical) when it comes to sex.

None of what I call the “Big Five” social VR platforms (or even the top 12, for that matter) allow adult content. Note that here I am talking specifically about general-purpose/multipurpose platforms, not the purely sex-oriented ones like 3DX Chat (all links in this paragraph are safe for work).

But what would happen if one of them decides to break from the pack and allow sexual content? Assuming, of course, that there would be some kind of permissions system in place to lock it down and restrict access to only those adults who want to see and participate in it (like what Second Life already has, but perhaps even more restrictive).

That social VR platform would probably get a huge boost in business, along with a burst of media attention (not all of it positive). And it might just get enough attention to actually become a major player, becoming in effect the next Second Life, with user concurrency figures to match.

It’s a risky gamble, and if it is not handled correctly, it will tarnish the name of whatever social VR platform makes the attempt (much the same as Second Life now has a certain disreputable reputation in some quarters, even though it is certainly possible to use and enjoy SL without ever stepping foot in an adult sim).

But for some company, sick and tired of being the underdog virtual world after pouring untold time and money into building a platform, only to have it ignored, it might be a truly tempting prospect. And it would probably up-end the marketplace.

Then again, perhaps somebody will just go and create a purely adult-oriented social VR platform. We’ve already seen a first attempt to support VR with the adult virtual world Oasis (link is safe for work), but when I tried it, it didn’t work very well at all. Furthermore, it looks like the company is having trouble attracting users (they recently switched from their initial US$20-per-month subscription plan to US$20 for a “lifetime membership”, which indicates a certain level of desperation setting in). After writing my profile on the platform (see link above), I uninstalled Oasis from my computer and I have no plans to return.

The adult virtual world 3DX Chat also says they support the Oculus Rift VR headset on their website, and I did try it out once, but it’s also pretty buggy. After writing my profile (link is safe for work), I uninstalled the client software, and I have absolutely zero inclination to want to revisit 3DX Chat. As I have said before on this blog:

…I want to make it clear that I am not going to get into the habit of covering adult/sex-based virtual worlds. There are literally dozens of them out there, and frankly, I find them boring as hell.

Will I cover sex/adult-oriented social VR platforms in future on this blog? If it doesn’t cost me anything to test it out, once, then I might do it again. I mean, I’m a 55-year-old out-of-the-closet gay man; it’s not like I need a note from my Mommy to see nekkid people 😉

So, what do you think? Which social VR company do you think will take the plunge into adult content? Or do you think a new, adults-only company will capture the market instead? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, or join the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, where nearly 200 members are ready and willing to discuss and debate these and many other issues around social VR and virtual worlds!

UPDATE Feb. 19th: SURPRISE! As it turns out, one of the top social VR platforms already allows adult content, and I wasn’t even aware of it!

A commenter to this blogpost mentioned that High Fidelity actually allows adult content, and I posted a question on the official High Fidelity forums.

According to the High Fidelity Terms of Service:

These Terms of Service for High Fidelity Domains are applicable only when you access or use High Fidelity Domains (content hosted by High Fidelity). HIGH FIDELITY IS NOT RESPONSIBLE OR LIABLE FOR ANY ASPECT OF THE HIGH FIDELITY PLATFORM THAT IS NOT HOSTED, DISTRIBUTED, PROVIDED OR MAINTAINED BY HIGH FIDELITY.

So it would appear that you can have adult content on your own domain, as long as you don’t bring any adult content into HiFi’s own hosted domains. Furthermore, you can set an adults-only (age 18+) rating in the description section of the domain when you are setting it up:

Which leads to the follow-up question I asked: Are there already adult-rated/adult-content domains in High Fidelity? One person responded:

There are users who have adult content in their domains, but these are usually made private (unlisted) so that unaware users do not wander in… which is probably why most people haven’t seen them  🙂

I am pretty sure that most people are not aware that you can already have adult content in High Fidelity. I know that I’ve never heard of it before this! And High Fidelity probably doesn’t want to advertise that fact too loudly or too broadly, lest they get overrun with people setting up adult domains. Or maybe they do actually want that market! How interesting…

SECOND UPDATE Feb. 19th: HiFi user and unofficial High Fidelity Discord moderator Menithal has kindly given me a link to where Philip Rosedale talked about this back in October of 2017:

[High Fidelity] is an open source system where you run the servers. You can do whatever you want on your server. You are responsible for any local laws you might break, etc. We are just like an Apache web server.

Because we provide search services for placenames or domains on the web and in places like the go-to button on the tablet, we will use self-described ratings and other data we can collect to provide filters for those searches. Obviously you can opt out of using or being included in those search services. So these ratings will be used there.

Menithal suggests reading through the full discussion thread I linked to above, not just the part where Philip weighs in, in order to get the full context of the discussion.

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Intolerance and Social Media

Today I had to ban the first troll from the official RyanSchultz.com Discord server, for posting racist and homophobic statements and then denying she had said anything wrong (i.e. gaslighting). I am getting truly fed up with the amount of hate and prejudice I am beginning to see on most social media, and I will not hesitate to pull out the banhammer if I see it erupt on my Discord. This person was banned and all her posts deleted.

My rules for the RyanSchultz.com Discord include the following statement which I essentially lifted verbatim from Linden Lab:

Intolerance: This server encourages social interactions between users across multiple countries. The use of derogatory or demeaning language or images based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation is prohibited. Actions that marginalize, belittle, or defame users or groups are similarly prohibited. Hate speech of any kind is prohibited.

I have frankly had enough of the toxic stew that many social media platforms have become. I have left Facebook, and Google+ will soon shut down. I have, for own sanity, blocked Donald Trump on Twitter, and I am spending a lot less time there (although I do still cross-post my blogposts there, and I will continue to do so). I feel like taking a good, long vacation from all social media, except my blog and my Discord. I may just do that.

I think we all need to stop and think hard about this monster we have all had a part in creating and sustaining, and what kind of negative impact it is having on society. Some people feel they now have a platform to spread misinformation, lies, and hatred with impunity, and we must all do our part to stand up, call them on their bullshit, and put a stop to it.

Does Facebook/Oculus Need to Get Its Act Together On Social VR? A Thread on Reddit

As most of you already know, I quit Facebook as my New Year’s resolution, and I am still quite happy with my decision.

One of the places where I have spent more time since leaving Facebook has been Reddit, which is home to many thriving communities such as the Oculus subReddit, with over 140,000 subscribers who discuss and debate various issues related to Oculus VR hardware and software. (Sometimes I cross-post one of my blogposts there.)

Mark Zuckerberg presents the Oculus lineup (image taken from The Ghost Howls blog)

Yesterday, someone posted a lengthy item titled Opinion: Oculus needs to get its sh*t together in social, which I have only quoted in part (so please go over there and read the whole thing):

First, it’s ridiculous that cross-communication between the Go and Rift communities is so difficult, especially with Quest coming. VR social presence should be an underlying infrastructure that the whole Oculus ecosystem can plug into… Oculus: don’t split the VR community simply because of which of your own platforms they buy. Make communication easy, automatic, and built in.

Second, where the hell is the metaverse/Oasis/shared world? I know, VR Chat, AltspaceVR, Rec Room, High Fidelity, etc. …but why has Oculus–let alone Facebook!–abdicated this whole sector to third parties?

Now, this poster has raised a valid point. Why is social VR across all the Oculus hardware such a disorganized mess? Currently, Facebook offers Oculus Rooms for the Oculus Go users and Facebook Spaces for Oculus Rift users. Is Facebook going to use the release of the Oculus Quest (which I predict will be popular) to try and clean up this situation?

Some of the comments to this poster are worth quoting (again, I am going to take it easy with the quoting, taking into account the feedback I have recently received). I did go in and write a lengthy response, outlining the situation as I see it, and pointing out that there were already many social VR platforms which have been in development for several years (Sansar, High Fidelity, Sinespace, etc.).

When I said that High Fidelity and VRChat were planning to support the upcoming standalone Oculus Quest VR headset, one person responded:

Sadly, I don’t think VRChat’s gonna support Quest. It’s just not compatible with mobile CPUs. Hell, it brings modern up-to-date PC’s to a standstill with too many people. I very much doubt the Snapdragon 835 can handle all the custom shaders, avatars, IK, etc. The team would basically need to do a full rewrite. And that’s unlikely unless the team was way bigger.

Someone else said:

Do you really WANT Facebook also own the social VR “metaverse”? That seems like a really terrible idea in general to have a monopoly control so many things. Especially one that has proven dozens of times that they could care less about our privacy in respect to their profits…

I for one HOPE Oculus fails WILDLY on social VR. The alternative would be the worst-case dystopian future for VR and likely disasterous for humanity as a whole in the long-term.

To which I say, Amen and Hallelujah. However, Facebook has the deep pockets (lots of money) and the hardware (Oculus) to totally up-end the current, nascent social VR market, if they finally get their act together and choose to do so.

And finally, one person said:

To me it comes down to this—people want Second Life in VR format. It’s true. A metaverse where you can build or be anything you want…but in VR. We know that SL’s infrastructure cannot be upgraded to do that. High Fidelity, even with the founder of SL, isn’t cutting it. And neither is Sansar, Linden Lab’s actual VR offering.

I believe there are two main issues impeding them. 1. Instances – every platform nowadays does instance based “world” creation. Worlds are not permanent, player join numbers are limited, and the worlds are not visually connected to each other. People want permanence! To be able to wander from one place to the next aimlessly. This isn’t just an issue limited to VR of course (hello WoW). The reasoning behind this is that it’s much easier on the server hardware. Personally, I’d deal with some lag to be able to participate in a true open world environment. And

2. Adult content – All of the platforms are scared as f*** here. They don’t want their brand to be ‘marked’ by that, they don’t want to have to figure out how to police it, etc etc. That stuff is not going away. Whether they admit it or not, adult content has kept Second Life alive and thriving for 15 years (they still have ~50k concurrent users). Bottom line—deal with it. Embrace it. It’s going to happen with or without you.

This wide-ranging and fascinating discussion is the kind of thing that Reddit has become well-known for, and I would encourage you to go over there and read all or most of it for yourself, and perhaps add your own comments.